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A Beautiful Ruin by typewriter

Format: Novella
Chapters: 3
Word Count: 8,939
Status: WIP

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Contains profanity, Scenes of a sexual nature, Substance abuse, Sensitive topic/issue/theme, Spoilers

Genres: Drama, Romance
Characters: Harry, Ron, Hermione, Arthur, Bill, Molly, George
Pairings: Hermione/FredOrGeorge, Harry/Ginny, Ron/Hermione

First Published: 02/08/2015
Last Chapter: 03/24/2015
Last Updated: 03/24/2015

Hermione chose a life without George after the war.  Years later he returns, uprooting her perfectly imperfect world and forcing her to confront the repercussions of her decision.  It’s there, in the hopeless ruin of his destructive habits, that they may at last find peace. 

Sequel to A Wonderful Love // Gorgeous banner by angelic. @TDA!


Chapter 1: Just Breathe
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Disclaimer: Harry Potter does not belong to me and I am making no profit in the creation of this story.

AN: Thank you to my beta for this chapter ravenclawprincess!

Chapter One: Just Breathe

"You're going to make us late again!"

"Honestly, Ronald, spare us the act!" Hermione shouted back at him while bending forward to tug on one of her more dashing pairs of short red heels.

She was balanced on one foot against the bureau in her bedroom giving her reflection in the mirror a cursory glance over her shoulder. She needed to make sure she wasn't about to flash her bum the moment she bent down to pick up Victoire later. She never wanted Arthur Weasley to see that sight again and figured the soft-spoken older man felt wholeheartedly the same. Hermione didn't know which one of them had been more horrified.

"She has you there, mate. Stop pretending you give a shite."

"Sod off, Harry. Mum's going to take it out on me, not you, and you know it."

"Mama's boy!" Hermione yelled down the hall with a laugh. She loved their natural banter, built from years of it being just the three of them against the world. It made her feel special to be a part of something so intimate.

"We can't all be as charming as Hermione and I are," she heard Harry tease. "It's not our fault you're about as charming as a Blast-Ended Skrewt."

Hermione grinned widely at them even though they couldn't see it as she smoothed down the skirt of her white sundress. She quickly grabbed her earrings and necklace for the day off her nightstand and raced into the living room of their flat where her boys were waiting. They were both lounging lazily against the opposite armrests of their sofa, looking as if she'd left them out there for decades instead of ten minutes longer than she was meant to. With hair like hers, she figured they should consider themselves lucky it was only ten minutes.

Harry jumped up as soon as she came around the corner. He whistled his appreciation playfully. "Someone sure cleans up nicely."

She smiled her thanks, swatting his arm as she always did when he complimented her. Then she offered her necklace to Ron and turned her back to him. He made quick work of zipping up the top of her dress which she'd been unable to reach on her own while she popped her earrings in. He then dutifully pulled her long curls to the side and fastened the clasp of her necklace for her.

Harry squeezed her shoulder then stepped off down the hall in the direction of her room, only to return with her depthless handbag and a red cardigan. "Wand," he commanded, holding out his palm.

Hermione pulled her wand out of her bra and handed it to him. Harry slipped her wand inside before giving the bag to Ron so that he could then help her slip into the cardigan. When they were done, Ron offered her the bag back and took her hand, kissing the spot on her forearm where the "M" of her scar peaked out of her left sleeve.

"You know, this dinner happens every Sunday," Ron commented vaguely, steering her toward the fireplace.

"And?" Hermione prodded with a grin, slipping her handbag over her shoulder and rolling her eyes at where this was going. Where it always went. It was their Sunday tradition; she accidentally waited too long to start getting ready, Harry and Ron sat in their living room bickering impatiently, and then Ron scolded her as they finally whisked out of the flat.

"I'm just saying, it's not like it should sneak up on you every week."

Harry gave a quick, barking laugh. "She's never going to be perfectly on time for dinner at the Burrow, mate. Just give it up already."

Ron smirked. "As I've been told repeatedly, I'm too much of a 'bullheaded prat' to stop hoping."

"Whoever told you that was very insightful," Hermione said innocently.

Then they were off.

As usual, the moment the three of them burst from the fireplace and into the Burrow, they were crowded by friends and family on all sides. There were the couples: Fleur and Bill, Percy and Audrey, Andromeda and Ted, and Arthur and Molly. Then there were the others: Ginny, Charlie, Kingsley, and Hagrid. It appeared Luna, Dean, Seamus, and Neville had stopped in as well. Then there was the little ones to mention: Teddy, Victoire, and Molly.

When had Sunday dinners turned into a weekly party?

Everyone was cheerfully saying hello, patting shoulders, kissing cheeks, and unwittingly overwhelming Hermione with their sudden vicinity. She tried to look normal as she fell away from all contact. She found it easier to avoid everyone's eyes and instead turn to greet someone else the moment the conversation started to venture past hello. She also wasn't above pulling Harry and Ron in front of her as a shield, knowing they understood why she did it. No matter how often they visited, she would never get used to how uncomfortable it was coming to Ron's childhood home.

She tried to look excited as Victoire ran over for a quick squeeze. For some reason, the beautiful little girl adored her. Hermione never had the heart to avoid her touch like she would to the others. She bent down to quickly run a hand over the back of the girl's lovely strawberry blond waves.

"Bonjour, little one," she whispered with a soft smile. The tinkling laughter and dimpled grin she received in return made it worth it. Then, in a flash, Victoire had disappeared over towards Teddy. Hermione watched the two dart off with Molly racing in their wake, always hoping to be a part of the cool older kids' games.

Hermione stepped back between Harry and Ron with a sigh. Her grip on Ron's hand had tightened since their arrival. She was relieved to feel Harry clasp her free hand just as she swept it searchingly out to the side for him. It'd been like this for the last three years since the war had come to an explosive and devastating end – The need to be surrounded by her boys, protected by them. The need to protect them in return. She couldn't breathe easily unless she knew where they were. They were her family, the only two people on the planet who knew everything that had happened to her and whom she felt she would never be judged by. She seriously doubted she'd have made it through the aftermath of the war without them.

Molly Weasley came sweeping toward them then, boisterous with arms outstretched. She managed to get her arms around both Harry and Ron's shoulders for a group hug which made Hermione feel painfully claustrophobic as she was pulled in as well. When Molly pulled back, she clucked her tongue in reproach at Ron before kissing his cheek with a gentle swat of her hand to the other.

He shrugged and nodded his head in Hermione's direction, already guessing why his mother was miffed. This was a weekly occurrence after all. "It's her, mum, I swear. Harry and I have been ready for twenty minutes! She takes ages getting ready. I grew a beard and shaved it off in the time it took her to get her shoes on."

"Don't listen to him, Molly," Hermione said, trying to look as innocent and amiable as possible. "Your son made us late by choosing to pick a fight with me. He was terribly rude."

"I resent that!" Ron argued with mock outrage. "Back me up, Harry."

Harry looked up at the ceiling. "I'm sorry, I can't hear you over the sound of this marvelous woodwork."

"I can't win," Ron sighed, shaking his head ruefully before smiling at Hermione. She knew for a fact that he loved it.

"If Hermione says you have dreadful manners then you have dreadful manners," Molly stated merrily, ignoring her son in favor of hugging Hermione again.

It was a painful moment. Hermione found that she couldn't for the life of her release her vice-like hold on Harry and Ron to return the embrace, at least not while twenty people were so close to her. Her body tensed from the unwanted contact and her arms seemed glued to her sides, palms sweating in a manner she was sure the boys were not entirely pleased with. She flushed as she cast her eyes downward, feeling too awkward in her own skin to meet Molly's eyes.

She could feel the curious gazes of her friends and family burning a hole in her skull. She was mortified, but couldn't do anything about it. Even though this was not her first episode of weirdness, it hurt just as much. She felt like an outcast.

Molly let go and backed away, but not before she gave a quick scowling glance at Hermione's hands wrapped firmly between Harry and Ron's. The cold glare was gone so fast that Hermione almost doubted it'd ever been there at all. She tugged Harry and Ron protectively closer to hide their hands behind both of their sides. Hermione wanted to disappear, hating how strange she must seem to others. Hating how even after the past few years of peace, she still psychologically had too many scars to count.

"Just breathe, 'Mione," Ron whispered, kissing her temple quickly so that no one else would notice.

She nodded helplessly.

"Ten tiny breaths," Harry murmured from the corner of his mouth, releasing her hand so he could press his palm encouragingly into the small of her back.

Hermione did as she was told, keeping her eyes on the floor and letting her boys step in front of her to chat with one person or another to give her a much needed moment to calm down. She loved them for it.

"Out to the garden, everyone! Food will be out shortly!" Molly exclaimed a few minutes later, probably having realized that the crowd didn't seem to be moving of their own accord. "You're clogging my work space!"

Everyone laughed good-naturedly, only then realizing they'd taken over the living room and kitchen area without meaning to. Hermione gave a relieved sigh as people dispersed before moving to follow behind Harry as he made for the yard behind everyone else. She had lost sight of Ron for the moment as he went off to talk to Charlie. The dragon tamer was rarely around, and Hermione knew that Ron had a particular soft spot for him. She sometimes thought that if Ron hadn't wanted so badly to be an Auror with Harry after the war then he may have gone a similar route as Charlie, simply because he thought it was so wicked.

She grinned at the thought of Ron's boyish crush on dragons, forgetting herself for a moment.

It was a long enough moment for her to fall behind the rest of the family. Harry had slipped away without realizing she had stopped. Hermione looked around, relaxing automatically at the sudden solitude. She may not appreciate being far from the boys, but she did appreciate being alone.

Hermione leaned against a wall, staring at the fireplace and absently playing with the hem of her dress. No matter how pretty she tried to be for the Weasleys and the rest of her friends, she couldn't blend in. She was always doing something peculiar. There was the time Bill startled her and she cast a Body-Binding Curse at him. She had also woken the entire household screaming bloody murder after a few nightmares, which was the reason that the trio had moved into their own place not long after the war ended. And one could never forget how she had accidently punched Kingsley in the throat for trying to hug her too quickly on her birthday last year. No amount of Auror reflexes could have helped him.

Her behavior filled her with shame. What made it worse was that she knew she was doing it, but she couldn't seem to stop. Hermione bit her lower lip hard, trying not to let her frustration lead to tears. She hated crying, and knew once she started she would never get back to the party. That was the last thing she needed.

Then, the fireplace flared to life, surprising Hermione into a standing position and causing her to hastily wipe at her eyes. She glanced up just in time to see the green flames of the Floo fade back to the early colors of a sunset and the tall frame of the last person she expected to see step through the grate.

She was shocked into stillness, which was the absolute worst thing that could have happened when all she wanted was to make a run for it. She'd been merrily avoiding him for ages. Ever since Fred's funeral actually; a feat that was made entirely possible due to the fact that he never came to Sunday dinners, or any family event for that matter. She hadn't even heard about him for longer than it took for someone to ask after his wellbeing and Molly to mutter a quick "fine."

George dusted himself off and ran a hand over his forehead, allowing Hermione to give him a quick once-over. His flaming red hair was just long enough to cover the tips of his ears, which minimized the effect of the missing side. He wore a mint green button down, rolled up to his elbows, and an old pair of faded denims. It'd been a very long time since she'd seen him looking so casual. Whenever she'd allowed herself to think of him in the past few years she'd remembered him as he'd been at Fred's funeral, in his formal black dress robes.

When Hermione glanced back to his face, she flushed in embarrassment at having been caught. He had frozen mid-dust, finally seeing her standing there like an imbecile. They both stared, seeming unsure of how to react to each other. George recovered quicker, his expression melting away until she no longer could even guess at his thoughts. He unfurled himself up to his full height, looking down at her in the mercurial way of his that she remembered so well. She missed the days when he was an open book.

"Hello, George," she murmured weakly, raising a limp hand in a lame attempt at being welcoming. That was what friends did, right? They greeted each other. But, they weren't exactly friends, so she figured she was probably acting like a complete idiot.

"Granger," he said simply, quirking a brow while his lips twisted into a little frown.

It'd been ages since he'd said her name. Hermione was shattered by it. Her breath caught and she began fiddling with the hem of her dress again anxiously, drawing his darkened brown eyes down to her legs for a moment. The moment stretched on. She was pissed that he seemed so relaxed while she was losing it. Memories long buried began to pop into her head.

The feel of her back pressed into a sink. The back of her thighs in calloused hands. The brush of shaggy red hair against her neck. The caress of lips against her pulse.

"Just one more time, baby, please," he had begged.

A great deal of time had passed since she'd let herself remember that day.

"Something to get me through it."

Hermione had blocked the memory for good reason.

"Everyone's outside," Hermione choked out suddenly to stop the visions. She spun away from him to prevent herself from doing anything else disastrously bizarre. She could barely handle normal interactions, never mind interactions with him. It was too much. It would be one thing to have expected his presence, but now she felt bombarded. She hated surprises and this was a completely unwelcome one. She needed a breather. She needed to go find Harry and Ron.

Gods, Ron.

She rushed out into the garden, practically tripping over a gnome on her way out. Her heels sunk into the grass and she reached out to correct her balance, only to feel a shoulder sweep under her scrambling hand just in time.

"Whoa, 'Mione, where's the fire?"

She sank into his arms in relief. "I was just coming to look for you."

Harry sighed. "Too much?"

She nodded. "Way too much."

He brushed a stray hair from her temple, looking over his shoulder at the crowd gathered in the garden. "I'll go find Ron, then we can go."

"We can't do that," Hermione said begrudgingly. "I haven't even made the rounds yet. People will notice if we leave after five minutes and I don't need to draw more attention to the fact that I'm a freak."

"Hey, that's my best friend you're talking about," Harry admonished, tweaking her nose playfully before tugging her toward a table with various refreshments on it. "If you're a freak, then what am I?"

"An angel," she stated firmly. "A guardian angel."

Harry smiled tenderly at her. "How about a glass of water to cool down? Would that help?"

"Wine, please."

He chuckled, immediately pouring her a glass. He'd just passed it over when George strode out of the house and into the yard. He was carrying a plate of something delicious with Molly a step behind with another plate. Harry stiffened at Hermione's side, no doubt just as shocked as she'd been to see the long-lost Weasley brother present at the Burrow after the past few years.

"Hermione," Harry started slowly, casting a narrowed glance over at her.

"I didn't know," she said as a reflex. Wincing at the lie, she amended quietly, "Well, I did know. I mean, I ran into him in the house just as he got here."

"Great, just great. Ron's going to flip," he sighed, already resigning himself to the blowout that was sure to happen later. "Wine's not strong enough. Where the hell does Arthur keep the Firewhisky?"

"His brother hasn't shown his face for three whole years. It's a good thing that he came today, because maybe this is George's way of finally moving on from Fred's death. Ron will realize that," Hermione reasoned levelly in an attempt to reassure them both. "It's childish to let misplaced jealousy prevent him from seeing how nice this is. Ron should be happy."

She felt rather than saw Harry's pitying gaze. "Misplaced jealousy?"

Hermione flushed. Something about the way he said it made her think he knew about her.

Ron was not going to be happy.

AN: There you have it: Chapter 1 of the sequel to A Wonderful Love! Thank you for reading! I wanted to get it beta-ed and up as quickly as possible for all of you who were thrown by the cliff-hanger non-Hermione/George ending of the first story. Let me know what you think of this so far! Review!


Chapter 2: Afterwards
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Disclaimer: Harry Potter does not belong to me and I am making no profit in the creation of this story.

AN: A gigantic thank you to my beta, ravenclawprincess!

Chapter Two: Afterwards

Hermione sat at her usual table in the back of the Leaky Cauldron. She enjoyed coming to the old pub in the early afternoon to have a cuppa since the popular drinking hole was not nearly as crowded then as it was in the evening. She sipped her tea now, turning over her newspaper to read the ministry's announcement about the latest amendment regarding werewolf rights. She smiled, knowing Remus would be proud of the strides the world was taking. There was still a lot to do, but steps were being made in the right direction. Hermione was making sure of that.

"Another, Hermione?"

Glancing up at the smiling blonde barkeeper, Hermione shook her head politely. "No thank you, Hannah. How's Tom doing?"

Hannah frowned grimly as she wrung a dishtowel between her hands in obvious anxiety. "Not well. Did you hear he's officially signed the pub over to me to take care of once he's gone? He's such a wonderful man. I hate seeing him so sick. He's always been wonderful here and I don't want to let him down."

"Nonsense, I'm sure it makes him very happy to know his pride and joy is in good hands," Hermione reasoned kindly, reaching out to pat Hannah on the shoulder in gentle understanding. "Keep me posted. I know Harry loves Tom and would want to know. And let me know if you need anything."

"I will," Hannah assured with a thankful smile before disappearing over to another table after a parting wave of her dishtowel.

Hermione watched the woman go, absently tapping her cup with the tips of her fingers in thought.

"What's got you looking so lost?" Ron asked as he slid quite suddenly into the seat opposite of her with a wide, cheerful smile.

She jumped in surprise. "Gods, how do you do that?"

"Sneak up on you? Auror training," he shrugged, leaning over to kiss her cheek in greeting. "I'm sly like a cat."

Hermione gave an inelegant snort. "Yes, that was my first thought. Closely followed by: 'That Ron sure knows how to stop a girl's heart'."

He reached forward to lift her tea to his mouth without asking. She glowered at him in protest, which he ignored with practiced ease. "Stop, as in skip a beat?"

"Nope, just as in murder."

Ron laughed, glancing over at Hannah with a grin and nod as she walked by their table to say a quick hello to him. "So, what were you thinking about?" he asked Hermione, turning to lean towards her over the table on his elbows.

Hermione folded her newspaper up and put it on the seat next to her. "Well, Tom's not looking good. He's officially stepped down, gave Hannah the pub and everything. I think she's a bit overwhelmed by it all."

"Sad," Ron whistled, eyes downcast. "Let me know if you hear anything else. Harry will want to know."

Hermione almost smiled at how he'd voiced the same thought she'd had earlier, but figured the smile would be misconstrued given the current subject matter. Instead, she nodded her assent. "I will."

"Hey, take a walk with me," Ron urged after a moment of fiddling with the buttons of his shirt and giving her his usual look-over to ensure she was in one piece. Harry and he seemed to think it possible for her to get into trouble even if only an hour had passed since they'd last seen her. He stood and reached for her leather shoulder bag once he seemed satisfied she hadn't fallen off a cliff without telling him.

"You don't need to do that," Hermione said quickly, trying to prevent him from taking it.

He ignored her, grabbing it and then wincing at how heavy it was. "Someone's been at Flourish and Blotts."

She gave a bashful grin before tapping the bag with her wand to place a Feather-Light Charm on it. "I have no idea what you're talking about. You must be getting weaker."

Ron glared without malice before following her out into the busy streets of Diagon Alley. They strolled next to each other, smiling at familiar faces that passed them by. There was always an endless stream of friends and fans from the war around them. It made Hermione anxious and claustrophobic, but it was something she was slowly learning to get used to. It'd only become worse with the passing of time. Now people had turned them into legends; they didn't just have stories of their perils from the war to contend with, but also made up facts.

They were just passing Gringotts when Ron reached out to gently grasp Hermione's elbow, drawing her to a stop. She looked up at him expectantly. He opened his mouth to speak, but was immediately interrupted as a young girl jumped in front of them with gleeful excitement.

"You're Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger!"

The girl had dark brown hair pulled back into two low pigtails and was smiling at them in a heartbreakingly adorable manner. Hermione immediately softened. "Can we help you?"

"Yes please! My name is Gemma and my mum said it'd be alright to come over and ask for your autograph." The way the word "autograph" slipped off the girl's tongue made it sound like "ought-ee-graft."

Ron and Hermione both looked over to where Gemma was pointing enthusiastically over her shoulder. There was a dark haired woman who seemed to be in her mid-thirties standing with an armful of what appeared to be Hogwarts supplies. She saw them looking and immediately blushed, lifting her bags to shrug apologetically. Hermione reckoned Gemma's mum had only given in after persistent pleading from her daughter.

"Can't say no to that, can we?" Ron responded, giving his most winning smile as he bent down to Gemma to take a piece of parchment from her nervously trembling hands. "Are you off to school for the first time this year, Gemma?"

The girl nodded vigorously.

"Ah," Hermione began, taking the parchment that Ron passed her. She grimaced at his messy handwriting before signing her own name in pristine cursive. "That's so exciting! What House are you hoping for?"

"Gryffindor!" Gemma announced, clutching the autographs to her chest like a lifeline. "I want to be just like you."

"Well, hopefully a bit more rule-abiding," Ron murmured for Hermione's benefit, waving as the girl giggled and then ran off to tell her mother about their entire exchange.

Hermione shared a grin with Ron after Gemma left. That had been one of the more pleasurable encounters they'd had with a fan. It was much easier to enjoy the unwelcome thrill of fame when it was a cute little kid instead of a war-ravaged widow coming up to them. Those cases were awful.

"You were saying?" Hermione prodded now that they were alone again.

"Well, er, I wanted to talk to you about George," Ron said, his mouth falling into a tense line.

Hermione winced. She'd been waiting for it to come up again. Ron had taken one look at George at the Burrow two days ago and had frozen up for the rest of the day. He'd seemed eerily relaxed to the unknowing eye, but she and Harry had both known he was fuming inside.

"I know I've been…"

"Brooding?" she supplied, turning to face him with what she hoped was a playful smirk.

He rolled his eyes. "I was going to say that I know I've been avoiding the topic since Sunday."

"Potato, Potatto."

"I just wanted you to know I'm alright with it," he sighed, reaching out to grasp her shoulders and guide her a step closer. "I've thought about it, and it's silly for me to hold a grudge over what happened between you and him three years ago."

Hermione's eyebrows rose in surprise.

"I'm not happy," he assured her quickly, reading her expression. "It was easier to forget you'd ever slept with him when he wasn't around serving as a walking reminder, but it's nice to see my brother again."

Placing her palms over his hands, Hermione leaned in to kiss him. "I'm glad you've had this remarkably mature realization. I'm so proud of you."

"See? You're with me for more than my looks," he insisted with a grin that turned guilty moments later. He scrunched up his nose sheepishly. "Though for the sake of being honest with you, I should also add that Harry let me blow up about it to him already so you wouldn't have to see."

Hermione gave a bark of laughter at the unexpected admission and threw up her hands. "There's the man I grew up with. All is right with the world. I knew you couldn't be this okay with it!"

"I am now, but we both figured it'd be better for your temper if you didn't see the initial outburst. We're always thinking about your wellbeing," he declared with a charming smirk.

"I appreciate that. And, who knows, maybe we can put this behind us and be friends with George now," Hermione said keenly, meeting his eyes in a blatant challenge.

"We'll see," he sighed, taking one of her hands and starting to walk again. "Let's not push it, though."

"He's your brother. It's a given that he's your friend."

"Yes," he agreed. "But it's not a given that he's yours. You didn't have the pleasure of growing up with him and, last time I checked, you don't share blood."

"Thank goodness, because otherwise I'd have some crimes to report," she teased, jumping away as he swatted at her halfheartedly. "I'm sorry, it was just too easy."

"Apparently, you're too easy," Ron corrected before immediately releasing his hold on her and spinning off in the opposite direction as her mouth fell open in a gasp of appall. "On that note, I'll see you at home! Love you!"

"I hate you, Ronald Weasley!" she yelled back, ignoring the confused onlookers that'd gathered around the bickering war heroes.

"I know!" he called with a wink before turning a corner back in the direction of the passage to the Ministry, which she assumed was where he was heading. Harry and Ron usually found her on their lunch breaks.

She couldn't help but give an amused chuckle as she shook her head after Ron, standing with her hands on her hips for a moment longer before heading home. She couldn't really be mad at Ron for making fun of her. After all, she spent a majority of her time trading joshing insults with both him and Harry. It was the nature of their relationship. Sometimes it made her question whether she and Ron were actually in any way romantic, but she figured that was just because they'd jumped straight from boyfriend and girlfriend to old married couple in the mere year since they'd finally started seeing each other openly. They knew each other too well for all the gooey stuff.

Still, the niggling thought that it was a bit weird for it to be so easy to discuss George in a teasing manner with Ron entered her mind unwelcomingly.

It'd taken a long time after the war had ended for the pieces to fall into place, leading Hermione and Ron to finally give their relationship a go. For a long time, it'd been a matter of coping with grief and figuring out their place in the new world in the wake of a rebirth. Then, they'd both been haunted by George despite how much they tried to pretend her relationship with him had been insignificant. Often they'd find themselves in fights where his name was dropped just to hurt each other. Ron would say he was her second choice. She would say he was jealous. It was always awful and unfair on both of their parts and Hermione felt shameful just remembering.

After they'd finally allowed themselves to begin dating, George had slowly stopped looming over their shoulders as a reminder of the past and they stopped using him against each other. She no longer brought up the fact that Ron was jealous, because it was an obvious truth that she hated rubbing in her boyfriend's face. Ron no longer brought up how he'd been second to George, because that too was obvious. They'd grown closer while hiding the past from each other and living in the present. Maybe they'd even grown too close, to the point where it no longer felt like a romance. Now there was no difference between how Ron treated her and how Harry did.

Hermione bit her lip, looking up from where she'd been scanning the ground absently. The moment her eyes rose back to the cobbled streets of Diagon Alley, a witch and wizard passed her in an intimate embrace. She watched intently as the couple strolled by in the opposite direction, staring at each other instead of looking forward. They both seemed to be only a few years older than her, yet as they locked hands and shared a smile it seemed as though their love was old.

It was a love that Hermione wanted. A love that was passionate and consuming. She bet if the woman brought up her ex-boyfriend to the man, he'd be jealous; he wouldn't make a joke about it. But was that even a good thing? Maybe the fact that Ron made light of the situation was nice. Maybe it simply meant that he trusted her completely and knew George meant nothing to her anymore.

She stopped walking then, suddenly feeling lost and confused. Her eyes scanned her surroundings, falling on the abandoned building with a faded sign reading "Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes" that stood directly in front of her. Hermione ran her hands over her face as a pit formed in her stomach at the sight. She didn't want to think about what had led her there.

That night when Hermione was waiting for Ron to get home, she found herself crouching down towards the flooring of their bedroom. She stopped and listened to be sure he hadn't apparated into the flat yet, then tapped her wand on a particular floorboard three times. It disappeared, allowing her to reach in and gently grasp the item she'd been unable to relinquish the night of Fred's funeral.

She ran her hand over the cracked spine and worn cover of the journal reverently, wondering for the millionth time why she did this to herself. At first, keeping the journal had been a way to help her overcome the loss of her first boyfriend. It'd been hard to give up that love, especially when her grief made her crave it. Over time, the journal had stopped serving as a means to move on and instead had become a way of holding onto that relationship.

Hermione opened the journal. Glaring back at her were years of almost daily snippets that she'd started writing the night that she'd spared the book from the fire. The passages she'd added could no longer be called letters, as had been intended when she'd created the charmed journal. Instead, what had originally served as a means for writing to George while out hunting for the horcruxes had become a record of her ideas, musings, and lastly confessions. The only commonality the more recent entries held to the originals was that each and every passage was still addressed to the man that she'd promised was in her past and would stay there except for friendship.

The name taunting her from the top of each page, as she caressed her latest addition, was the reason she'd kept her very first secret from Harry and Ron since the war.

Dear George,

Hermione clenched her eyes shut, hating herself. Then, she began writing.

AN: There's chapter two for your reading pleasure! I must say I'm so pleasantly surprised by the turnout for this sequel. I knew I was going to be upsetting a lot of people by ending AWL the way I did, but I did it anyway because it made the most sense to me for the characters. I'm so appreciative of the kindness you've all shown me in your reviews. I will say that, for those of you who are anti-Ron, starting next chapter we'll be seeing more George. ;) Thank you! I look forward to your reviews!


Chapter 3: Just a Dream
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Disclaimer: Harry Potter does not belong to me and I am making no profit in the creation of this story.

AN: Thank you to my wonderful beta for this story ravenclawprincess!

Chapter Three: Just a Dream

It was sunny. The type of sunny one could only experience in England during the middle of summer. The air was electric, the sun's heat kissing her skin and causing a tingling sensation that assured her she'd be red tomorrow if not for the potion she'd drunk earlier to prevent sunburn. Every so often a cloud would block the brilliant rays, allowing her some gentle relief for just long enough that she would miss the prickle before it began again. The rhythmic cycle of the blistering warmth and then calm reprieve lulled her quickly into a peaceful sleep.

A soft kiss to her temple woke her sometime later. She blinked into the daylight, squinting at the smiling face that hovered above. She could only see the outline of his head due the brightness of the sky behind him, but she could still make out his familiar dimples.

"How long was I out?" she murmured, raising a hand to wipe at her face tiredly.

"Long enough to be all sweaty and red," George replied, his palm sliding into her curls as she moved her hand away and met his eyes.

Her head was resting at the crook of his elbow as he curled on his side around her, each in their swimsuits. They'd journeyed outside earlier to take a dip in the pond and share in some much needed alone time. She'd been so busy planning with Harry and Ron lately that sometimes it felt like they weren't living in the same house at all. It was strange to miss someone so much when they were right in front of you.

She grinned, closing her eyes again as she turned to bury her head against his chest. "You're one to talk. Even with the potion you look like one of Umbridge's pretty pink cardigans."

"Really know how to sweet talk a bloke, don't you?" he teased, brushing the side of her head softly with his thumb before rolling over onto his back and pulling her with him. "I love when you compare me to the toad lady. It makes me feel all warm inside."

"That's just the sun," Hermione assured, pressing a quick kiss to his bare chest before settling against him once more. "It's making you both hot and delirious."

George chuckled, the sound rumbling through his torso and against her cheek. "I'm always hot and delirious around you."

"You can't mock me for my sweet talking skills and then announce that you're never in the right state of mind around me," she said in return. "This may sound absurd, but I'm fairly certain that wonderfully loving relationships don't start because someone was a raving nutter around the other person."

George's hand slid from her hair to the nape of her neck, guiding her lips down to his for a kiss. His mouth seared against hers, creating a deliberately slow and meticulous motion until her breath came in short pants and she was feeling very much in need of another dip in the pond. He pulled away slightly, looking up at her to scrutinize her expression. He must have seen the need in her gaze, because a cocky smirk slid across his features.

"Hmm… How's your state of mind right now, baby?"

"Touché," was all she managed.

"What are your thoughts on the matter, Hermione?"

She started as the memory disappeared like it were a show on the telly that she'd just clicked off. Jerking her head back in the direction of Parvati Patil, she opened her mouth in an attempt to formulate an appropriate response, only to shut it a moment later when nothing came to her. She couldn't even recall the question she'd been asked.

This was only one of what felt like thousands of interviews that she'd sat through in the past few years. The process, though uncomfortable, had become routine enough that it was almost too easy to let her mind fade until she was completely distracted. Especially when her thoughts were filled with a ghost from her past. Memories that had been carefully held under wraps had been bursting forth more and more often lately.

"Parvati, you know Hermione. She's got too many thoughts on Kingsley's reelection campaign to just choose one," Ron chuckled good-naturedly, sliding an arm around the back of Hermione's chair. He gave her a meaningful nudge as he came to her aid, his eyes locking with hers with a raised eyebrow. "Her mind works at twice the capacity of ours."

Parvati gave a polite laugh, writing something in her notes that was no doubt about Ron's obvious adoration for his girlfriend. The public loved hearing the behind-the-scenes aspects of their relationship. No matter how many times journalists like Parvati insisted an interview be purely political, a section of the article was always left aside to comment on how the romantic duo within the Golden Trio was doing. In all fairness, Hermione couldn't say she hadn't expected it from the gossip-loving woman. Parvati had been that way in Hogwarts too. The fact that she'd made a reputation for herself as a serious reporter over the years instead of falling into an advice column of some kind was really the bigger surprise.

Hermione gave a small smile to Ron before leaning forward to provide her statement. She worked hard to make her voice clear, having noticed over the years that she often sounded timid during interviews because of her awkward way of interacting. She found that she needed to formulate a response and then run it through her head before speaking it in order to come across the way people expected the Hermione Granger to. It was an exhausting but necessary practice.

"Kinglsey Shacklebolt is a very dear friend of ours," she recited after a moment of thought. "It's an honor to count a man, who has done more for the wizarding world than any Minister of Magic before him, as family. He's really been the pioneer of our Post-War rebirth. There isn't a better man for the job, in my opinion."

Parvati nodded thoughtfully, continuing her notes. After a moment of writing, she lifted her gaze to Hermione's and tilted her head slightly to the right. "A better man, no. How about a better woman?"

"What are you implying?" Hermione asked hesitantly, exchanging a bemused look with Ron.

"In a recent poll of our subscribers, the public elected you as a person they'd choose to follow into the future," Parvati explained seriously. She seemed like a completely different person than she'd been in Hogwarts. It was only when she took a moment to fiddle with her hair that Hermione saw a glimpse of her old schoolmate under the prim and proper exterior.

Ron beamed at Hermione. "That's brilliant! You'd be a bloody fantastic Minister."

"That's very kind," she assured, trying to mask her shocked panic behind indifference. She made sure her final statement left no room for further discussion. "But right now, it's Kingsley's time. There isn't a better man or woman to lead the United Kingdom's wizarding population."

It was only a half hour later, after having finished the interview together, that Ron brought the subject up again. They were just leaving the office of the Daily Prophet when he stopped her with a gentle tug to her hand. He led her in a small passage between two buildings so they could talk in private away from the hustle and bustle of Diagon Alley.

"I thought you'd be excited by the idea," he stated simply, bursting into the conversation without any precursors. "When we were in school, if someone had offered you the Minister of Magic position, you'd have fainted like a bloody fool."

Hermione gave a frustrated sigh, releasing his hand. Her voice came out more tersely than she'd intended. "That was ages ago, Ron, and Parvati didn't offer me the Minister of Magic position. Nor does she have the authority to."

"I know that. I'm just a bit confused by how cold you're being about the massive bloody compliment she just paid you," Ron insisted, trying to catch her eye as she pointedly looked away. "You do realize that she just told you the wizarding world would elect you as their leader, right? You could be the first woman ever chosen for the position in history."

"Don't be stupid," she groaned, tilting her head towards the sky as annoyance overtook her. "I'm twenty-two years old. It's ridiculous to think someone would elect me."

"I'm sure she wasn't implying that you run against Kinglsey now," he said back at her through a clenched jaw, feeding off of her attitude with his own. She could tell he was trying to contain his temper. "Parvati was just saying you have a future in the politics of our world. In ten years, you could have a massive following."

Hermione narrowed her gaze at him, crossing her arms. "Good, then we'll talk about it in ten years."

"What the hell is wrong with you?" he asked suddenly, his tone softening the blow of his words as he reached out to grasp her shoulders and gently tug her a step closer. His eyes met hers in confusion, draining her of her fight and making her flush in embarrassment over how quickly she'd flipped. It'd been a long time since she'd acted so harshly towards him. For the most part, they'd gotten their constant need to bicker out of their systems in school.

"I'm sick," she whispered after a long moment of silence, her eyes falling to the ground. "Ron, you know I can't handle public office. Not now, not ten years from now, not ever."

Ron's hands fell from her shoulders at the realization of what she meant. "Hermione…"

"No, it's alright," she continued immediately, not wanting to hear him apologize. She hated when he apologized when she was the one who should. "I just… I gave up on those dreams a while ago. It's already a struggle for me with the interviews and meeting fans. The potions are all that get me through it. Could you imagine me as the Minister of Magic of the entire United Kingdom?"

"I can," he replied softly, reaching for her again. "I can imagine it."

Hermione took a step away from him, blinking back tears. "You've got to get back to work. I'll see you at home after?"

Ron let out a long breath, nodding reluctantly after a few seconds of simply staring at her. "Alright. I'll see you at home."

He walked away from her with his shoulders hunched against the world. She'd hurt him without meaning to, which was becoming a trend. The harder he pushed to understand her weakness and her feelings about it, the worse things got. He was her best friend and her boyfriend, but this piece of herself was ruining everything. He and Harry knew her better than anyone; however, that didn't mean it was easy for them to fully comprehend what she'd gone through and how it'd changed her. Ron believed she could get better, whereas she believed she could only learn to cope.

Hermione started off in the opposite direction that Ron had set off in. She was so furious with herself. She hated that she'd changed after the war. Things that had once been so easy were now terribly difficult. When she pretended nothing was wrong, everything was wonderful. She was able to joke with her friends and operate fairly normally as long as she remembered to take her potion. But there were always going to be times like this when her future came into question and she'd have to face the reality of her situation.

She had only walked for a minute or two when she found herself in the same spot she'd wandered to the other day. The faded sign for the twins' old joke shop stared out at her defiantly from the rundown storefront. It seemed to be a ghost of a memory, a cheap shadow of its former self. Hermione came to a stop across the street from 93 Diagon Alley, pulling her jacket tighter around herself as she took in the scene. There had been a time when just being within the realm of Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes had made her feel overwhelmingly exuberant. The magic of the shop had seemed to burst forth from the building, causing all who neared it to instantly smile. All she felt now as she looked upon its ruins was sadness.

On a whim, Hermione took a step towards the building. Then she took another. She continued reluctantly closer until she was only a meter from the shop's door on the sidewalk. She tried to look into its windows, but found that they were all boarded up and grimy. Suddenly, she was hit with an intense longing to go inside and see if there was anything that had once made it so spectacular left standing.

Looking both ways to see if anyone's eyes were on her, Hermione took out her wand and tapped it quickly against the lock. The moment she heard the bolt turn, she was pushing open the door and slipped inside. It was only when she was surrounded by the hauntingly whimsical décor of the main floor that she began to regret her decision. It was as though she was standing in a carnival from the last century. Well, if that carnival had been destroyed. The shelves were stripped and crooked, the floor was covered in dust and rubble, and there was glass everywhere. It was clear that nothing had been touched since the war. All the damage from those dark times remained, as if the explosions had hit yesterday and not three years ago.

The glass crunched beneath her footsteps as Hermione ventured further into the shop, curiosity taking hold. No one ever spoke of George or the shop, but she'd always assumed he'd eventually reopen once time had passed and he'd begun to overcome his grief. The sight in front of her proved that the thought had been naïve. She placed a hand on a sign advertising Pygmy Puffs, running a finger through a trail of dirt that had slowly dulled the vibrant purple lettering underneath. A pit formed in her stomach, tightening uncomfortably at the thought of how sad it was to see Fred and George's pride and joy looking like a rubbish heap.

Something shiny on the second floor balcony of the store caught her eye then, just as a scrap of sunlight broke through the windows. She jerked her head backwards to look up to see the source, but the light had disappeared as quickly as it'd come. Hermione made her way to the back of the room, finding the spiral staircase leading upwards, and quickly began climbing the steep, teetering steps. It was there, at the top of the landing, that she saw the product that had always been so special to her: the Patented Daydream Charm. The one object that she knew for a fact George had been the mastermind of.

"Who's there?" a voice bellowed from behind her just as she was reaching a hand out to pick up the golden-wrapped package.

Hermione jumped, spinning around and accidentally smacking one of the charms onto the floor. Panicking, she fell into a crouch to quickly scoop up the product. She was still bent over when George came around a corner and found her.

"Wha-?" he began, stumbling a bit as he came to a sudden stop at the sight of her. He teetered on his feet, reaching out to catch himself against the wall. "Hermione," he murmured in bewilderment, his tongue seeming to trip over her name. It reminded her of the way in which Viktor Krum had said it when she was younger.

She leapt to her feet, the Patented Daydream Charm clutched to her chest. "George, I'm so sorry. I just –"

George shocked her then by giving a lopsided smile of delight, his eyes watery and bloodshot as he straightened back up. His voice was husky and deep as he breathed, "Baby."

Hermione froze, eyes widening as memories of the last time he had uttered that old nickname for her rose to the front of her thoughts. She opened her mouth to respond in some way but what came out instead was a jumble of gurgles as she sputtered her confusion. The package she'd still been hugging like a lifeline slipped from her grasp, tumbling back to the floor. Her face heated, especially as he took a step closer.

"I love dreaming about you," George slurred, his gait wobbly as he approached.

"George…" Hermione whispered cautiously, stepping backwards and holding out her arms in an attempt to ward him off. Her heart was lodged in her throat as she stared up and into his eyes, feeling warm under the intensity of his gaze despite how wrong it was. His audacity was intimidating.

"You're beautiful," he mumbled, reaching out to cup her jaw as her hands fell to his chest uselessly. "Even prettier in my head."

As George leaned towards her, Hermione seemed to come out of a stupor. She'd been frozen, unable to process what was truly happening in her shock at seeing him. It was silly to be surprised to run into the owner of the shop she'd broken into, but she'd been so sure he'd moved to another flat after Fred's death. Now, she finally let herself dissect the situation. As George's breath fanned across her face, she realized he was sloshed. His balance was thrown off and his words were slurred because he'd been drinking. He thought she was a figment of his imagination. As his lips neared hers, she did the only thing she could think of to stop what was coming next.

She hauled off and slapped him.

AN: There's chapter three! I brought George into the story for real this time! He'll be more present from here on out. I think you'll find him a bit different than the George from three years ago, but his presence back in Hermione's life will bring up a lot of feelings. :)